SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Chargers have a new color scheme. It’s called the red zone blues.
The Chargers got to the Denver 22-yard line or closer three times in the second quarter on Sunday. Nick Novak kicked field goals of 26 ad 40 yards, and then was wide left from 37 yards.
Against Peyton Manning, it wasn’t enough.
Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns, three to Demaryius Thomas, as he efficiently led the Broncos to a 28-20 victory in their first game since coach John Fox had heart surgery.
“We had a chance there with a couple of them and we knew how important it was this week to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals,” Philip Rivers said.
“Eventually it caught up with us and that was the difference. Those early drives, we would have been right there in better shape late in the game.’
“We kept battling and made it a one-score game with five minutes left and had a chance there to go score. We had to punt and we didn’t get it back.”
A week earlier, the Chargers had the ball first-and-goal from the Washington 1 before Danny Woodhead was stuffed and Rivers threw two incompletions before settling for a field goal to force overtime. The Redskins won 30-24.
With interim coach Jack Del Rio in charge, Manning kept the Broncos (8-1) rolling. He threw touchdown passes of 11, 7 and 34 yards to Thomas on consecutive drives spanning the second and third quarters, staking the Broncos to a 28-6 lead.
Julius Thomas had a 74-yard catch-and-run on Denver’s first drive, turning a short pass into the second-longest play by a tight end in team history.
The Broncos’ scoring drives lasted 57 seconds; 2 minutes, 27 seconds, 1:25, and 3:26.
Manning has thrown for 3,249 yards and 33 touchdowns in nine games. He completed 25 of 36 passes against the Chargers.
The Chargers (4-5) closed the gap late in the second half but couldn’t catch up.
“Give Denver a lot of credit. That is a very good football team,” said rookie Chargers coach Mike McCoy, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator the past four seasons.
“Unfortunately, offensively early on there we weren’t able to get touchdowns. We had three field goal attempts there. Against a good team like this you have to finish drives with touchdowns in the red area.
“When you play a good team like this you have to play the best of your ability.
Manning’s big afternoon was marred only when rookie linebacker Tourek Williams hit Manning from behind and knocked the ball loose, with Donald Butler recovering at the Denver 11 midway through the third quarter. Two plays later, Philip Rivers found Woodhead for a 7-yard scoring pass.
The Chargers pulled to 28-20 on Ryan Mathews’ 1-yard touchdown run on third down with 10:42 to play.
San Diego settled for field goals of 26 and 40 yards by Novak in the second quarter. Novak was wide left on a 37-yard attempt with 1:38 left before halftime.
That gave Manning enough time to move the Broncos 73 yards in nine plays, all passes, capped by his 7-yard scoring throw to Demaryius Thomas for a 21-6 lead before halftime. Manning threw only one incompletion that drive.
The Broncos got the opening kickoff of the second half and went 78 yards in eight plays, with Thomas’ 34-yard TD catch giving the Broncos a 28-6 lead.
The Chargers finished the game without left tackle King Dunlap, who sustained his third concussion this season, and center Nick Hardwick, who had a stinger. Rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker moved to left tackle.